Re­al­iz­ing the power of equal­ity

GEN­DER IS­SUES Cather­ine Mayer touts the ben­e­fits of bal­ance in At­tack of the 50 Ft. Women

The Hamilton Spectator - - BOOKS - LAU­REN LA ROSE

TORONTO — Cather­ine Mayer says there is not a sin­gle coun­try that has achieved gen­der par­ity, but cre­at­ing a level play­ing field for women to suc­ceed doesn’t lie solely with pur­su­ing po­lit­i­cal power.

“The mech­a­nisms that are hold­ing women down are in­ter­lock­ing and you can’t — just by putting more women into pol­i­tics — you can’t ac­tu­ally cre­ate change,” said Mayer, co-founder of the non-par­ti­san U.K-based Women’s Equal­ity Party.

“You have to look at things like the me­dia en­vi­ron­ment that con­tin­u­ally ei­ther di­min­ishes the idea of what women can be, or in other ways, finds ways to make us anx­ious about who we are and to turn our en­er­gies in­ward. So, we have to find ways to change that.”

In “At­tack of the Fifty Foot Women: How Gen­der Equal­ity Can Save the World!’ (HarperCollins) the author and jour­nal­ist cites many of the same core ob­jec­tives touted by the Women’s Equal­ity Party, or WE, as a po­ten­tial road map to achiev­ing par­ity.

Pur­suit in equal­ity in ed­u­ca­tion, pay, care­giv­ing and bring­ing an end to vi­o­lence against women are party tenets. They are also mea­sures echoed in Mayer’s book as ex­am­ples that will not only lead to the bet­ter­ment for women but so­ci­ety over­all.

Mayer paid a visit to Ice­land, which has long been her­alded for its pro­gres­sive at­ti­tudes to­ward women. She spoke to many lo­cals who gave their ac­counts of the Women’s Day Off as a key turn­ing point in rec­og­niz­ing the vi­tal role women played within the coun­try. On Oct. 24, 1975, all women walked away from their jobs and un­paid care­giv­ing du­ties, lead­ing pro­duc­tion in all spheres to come to a halt.

“For that one day, the men sud­denly re­al­ized how much the women con­trib­ute,” said Mayer. “It didn’t turn it into a gen­derequal coun­try overnight, but it kick-started the process.”

She writes of mea­sures and social sup­ports Ice­land has in­sti­tuted such as shared parental leave, and high-enough salaries to in­cen­tivize fa­thers to stay home with the kids, help­ing moth­ers to con­tinue to par­tic­i­pate in the labour force.

“They’re still nowhere near to­tal equal­ity. There’s still gen­der­based vi­o­lence, there’s still a gen­der pay gap, there’s still seg­re­ga­tion in the job mar­ket. But they are much fur­ther along,” said Mayer. “The way peo­ple in­ter­act is so no­tice­ably dif­fer­ent, and the con­fi­dence with which women present them­selves; but also the ease with which men deal with man­i­fes­ta­tions of fe­male power are com­pletely dif­fer­ent.

“The big­gest thing of all is that men un­der­stand that it’s part of the same project. They see that they, too, ben­e­fit from ev­ery­one be­ing more equal rather than as­sum­ing what men in many cul­tures do — that it will take away from them.”

Mayer’s WE Party pro­poses a strat­egy to in­crease fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion in the U.K. Par­lia­ment by en­sur­ing 66 per cent of can­di­dates vy­ing for of­fice are women. She had high praise for Prime Min­is­ter Justin Trudeau’s de­ci­sion to have a gen­der-equal cabi­net, and dis­missed those tout­ing mer­i­toc­racy over mea­sur­able tar­gets to bring women on board.

“That’s such non­sense when peo­ple ar­gue that be­cause there is a quota op­er­at­ing in favour of medi­ocrity at that mo­ment,” she said. “That’s what’s wrong with all of these in­sti­tu­tions that do not draw on the widest tal­ent pool avail­able — for all the dif­fer­ent rea­sons that they don’t.

“Peo­ple re­cruit peo­ple that are like them­selves; so it’s un­con­scious and con­scious bias at op­er­a­tion there as well.”

Mayer said she has met men dur­ing her U.K. pro­mo­tional events who have told her they pur­chased the book for their wives, but had not rec­og­nized they, too, could value from its les­sons.

“It shows the work that still needs to be done,” said Mayer. “There’s so much ev­i­dence about the ben­e­fits to ev­ery­one from gen­der equal­ity; yet some­how, de­spite all of this, men will read these in­di­vid­ual bits of re­search but they won’t re­late it to their own lives.

“This is my next ob­ses­sion, ac­tu­ally, is how to get men on­board, but how to get men on­board in a very real way.”

THE CANA­DIAN PRESS

”At­tack of the 50 Ft. Women” by Cather­ine Mayer, Harper Collins, $24.99, pa­per­back

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